As the largest mammal on land, elephants are remarkable creatures. Many people cite them as their favorite animal, which is no surprise. They are incredibly intelligent and playful and they are generally peaceful. They are also very social, travelling in herds and greeting friends by wrapping their trunks together. In many ways, they are actually a great deal like people. Perhaps that's why we are so fascinated by them.
Calves can often be seen playing together. They especially love playing in the water and enjoy using their trunks to spray each other. This is very endearing to see, especially when they seem to be smiling as they play! Further down this page you will find a video showing two calves playing together in the water, which I highly recommend watching.
The males are usually solitary, or sometimes form bachelor pods. However, the females travel in herds that have close social bonds. Even when the herd becomes too large, causing some to break away, they always remember and greet each other when they cross paths. Many elephants even "keep in touch" after leaving the herd, just as we do when we move away.
In some cultures, the elephant is symbolic of wisdom and altruism. It's easy to see why; the way they roam quietly but powerfully through their territory seems to demand respect.
These are only a few facts about these fascinating animals. Read on to learn more. Along the way you'll also be treated to some great videos and pictures.
Elephants at Play
This fantastic video is both informative and lighthearted. It talks about how elephants play and they can be quite mischievous and fun loving while showing footage of young calves splashing around in a small lake. Even as adults, they love to play in the water. It's only a couple of minutes long and is well worth the view. It'll make you want to go see them in person!
Elephants and the Heat
How do they keep cool?
African elephants especially live in such a hot climate. Many of their habitats are right on the equator, the hottest part of the earth. Unlike humans, elephants don't have sweat glands to help cool them off in the scorching temperatures. However, these fascinating creatures have developed wonderful ways to keep themselves cool.
The African elephant has larger ears than their Asian counterparts. These huge appendages are for a lot more than just show. Their ears are vital to helping them survive. The ears of an African elephant radiates heat, which helps to keep them cool. It's quite an amazing feature, isn't it?
Elephants also love to cool themselves off in the water. They fill their trunks with water and have a great time soaking themselves. As you saw in the video above, it's quite a treat to see. When they're finished their playtime, they will often put a coat of dirt on themselves, which further protects them from the heat.
Their wrinkles serve a purpose, too. If their skin was smooth, all the water from their playtime would evaporate more quickly. Their wrinkled skin actually traps the moisture better so that it takes longer to evaporate, keeping them cool for a longer time after they've been in the water. It also provides more surface area to their bodies, further helping them to beat the heat.
Male elephants will fight each other to determine who gets to mate with a female. This fighting can be quite dangerous, but can also end relatively quickly and harmlessly, with the weaker male accepting the loss. These fights help to keep the gene pools strong, thereby ensuring the survival of the herd.
Researchers are learning more about male elephants all the time. Until recently, they were thought to be antisocial and aggressive, but their true nature is slowly coming to light. While bulls certainly can be aggressive when they want to mate, they are more social and friendly with each other than was thought in the past.
Bulls also frequently play fight. As teenagers, they will find other males of their age to play fight with and will even sometimes join that family group for a time. They are not always accepted by this new herd, but can always leave to find a new herd until they are ready to be on their own.
Elephants fighting in Kenya, Africa
Since elephants are so social, communication is essential for them. When herds grow too large, they break off into smaller groups. The herds still maintain communication, though. They can communicate for across a distance of several kilometers. When they do this, they make noises that are usually too low for humans to hear. They also stamp their feet and sometimes they even purr.
Their feet aren't just used to talk to other elephants--they are also used to listen. They can actually "hear" the rumblings of other elephants through their feet by picking up the vibrations through the ground. They will also put their trunks on the ground as another method of picking up messages.
This video shows a baby elephant trying to take his first steps, but having a few problems with his trunk! It's not hard to see why. I can only imagine how hard it is to learn how to walk with a trunk hanging in front of you! Calves actually have very little control over their trunk for the first few months of life, which explains why this little guy is having so much trouble. This video is definitely worth a watch and will leave you with a smile on your face.
Baby elephants are already about 250 pounds and 3 feet tall when they are born. They stay close to their mother for several months before gaining enough confidence to move about more on their own. They usually drink their mother's milk for about two years, but also begin to eat vegetation at around four months.
Males stay with their herd until they are around fourteen years old. They then break off on their own, or sometimes join another family herd. Females remain with their herd for life, although they will sometimes break off with a section when the herd becomes too large.
There are actually a lot of similarities between human and elephant babies. Many animals are born with excellent survival instincts, but elephant calves must be taught many skills by their herd. They also will often suck their trunk, just like we suck our thumbs when we're young. They have "milk tusks" which are eventually replaced by adult tusks, and baby teeth which are replaced by stronger adult teeth.
At 22 months, elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal. This might seem like a long time, but remember how big calves are when they're born. Usually, only one calf is born to each mother, although there are records of twins.
Elephants can eat up to 400-660 pounds of vegetation a day. Because they need such a huge quantity of food, they sometimes spend nearly 80% of their day eating or looking for food. They are vegetarians, living off of grasses, leaves, bark, roots, bushes, and fruit. Their tusks help them break off bark from trees, which is a favorite and nutritious food. The rough material of the bark also helps push the rest of their food through their digestive system.
On an average day, they drink anywhere from 70-150 liters of water. Therefore, they usually stay relatively close to water sources. However, if they aren't able to find water, they can use their tusks to dig into the ground for it. This also helps out other animals, who can drink the water left behind.
Because elephants need to chew up so much vegetation, their teeth wear out rather quickly. Adults actually grow new sets of teeth at the backs of their mouths, which slowly move forward as the old teeth wear through.
Because elephants have such rich variety in their diet, they are able to live in many different environments. Their habitats range from grasslands and Savannah to to swamps and forests. They tend to roam through vast areas, eating as they go. During this process, they clear pathways that they can then follow year after year.
National Parks in Africa form a huge part of their habitat. This allows them to have as much space as they need while still remaining safe.
The main requirement for an ideal elephant habitat is an adequate food and water supply. Their only predators are humans, so they are not generally worried about safety like other animals are. This gives them a great deal of freedom to roam through different areas.
Humans are a threat to elephants not only because of poaching, but because of habitat destruction. Since they eat such large quantities of food each day, it's easy for a herd to consume all of the vegetation in a small area very quickly. When humans destroy their habitats and therefore restrict them to such small areas, the vegetation is not able to regrow and sustain the herd. When the herd is able to move on when necessary, the vegetation can regenerate in time for the herd to circle back when they are ready.
Climate change is also a danger, as it makes their habitats too hot and dry to support adequate vegetation growth.